A Vital Guide To...Villa Park
Aston Villa's originally named Villa Park.
Where are we seated?
In the Doug Ellis stand. The 3,000 strong away support will be split evenly between the upper and lower tiers. The stand is in the North East corner of the stadium. Visiting supporters used to be seated in the North Stand, behind the goal, but were moved around five years ago to the side.
What`s it like?
Villa Park is a funny old ground. The renovated Trinity Road Stand looks modern, but lopsided, a bit like it's been made out of lego. The Holte End is vast and impressive to the eye. But the North Stand and the Doug Ellis Stand are very much stuck in the immediate aftermath of the Taylor report.
The ground is a lot like Aston Villa Football Club itself. You get the sense that something great probably happened there once and it's not impossible to imagine that one day it might again. But no time soon. Somehow you think it might have been great in another lifetime and will be again in a generation that you don't live to see.
What are the facilities like?
In the Doug Ellis stand? Woeful. Much as they were in the North Stand. The concourses wouldn't fit one of Francis Jeffers' ears. Food is served out of a cage pretty much and the queues are horrendous and obstructive because the corridors are so tight. It also makes accessing the toilets a logistical nightmare, so bring a colostomy bag and a piss jar.
I've never tried the beer or the food at Villa Park because, though nutritious and wholesome I'm sure it is, I haven't ever fancied bursting a lung queuing up for it. I recall buying a hot dog in the North Stand in about 2001. There were no condiments available.
Inside you'll be treated to the double whammy of police insisting that you sit down, but finding you have a seat that Jernade Meade wouldn't fit into with which to follow their instructions. (P.S. Watch the fruity language, the stewards there tend to be some of the more active in the league).
That said, the facade and steps leading up to the Holte End is one of my favourite sites in English football stadia. It sits alongside the Marble Halls and the Shankly Gates for its distinctiveness and it's allusions to grandeur.
What are the home fans like?
Do you like the song Kumbaya? You do? Excellent. Because you'll be hearing every possible combination of words in the English language crammed into its pentamic syntax. They sing f*****g everything to that sodding tune. I reckon they probably order their pints to it. 'Pint of Becks me love, pint of Becks.'
You might also get a heeeeeeeeeeeeelarious rendition of 'Have you ever won the European Cup?' Villa fans also have that 'Yippee ay aye, yippee ay ooooooo, Holte Enders in the sky' song that makes me want to punch kittens in their cute little faces. I genuinely have no truck with Villa, but there's something about their songs that brings me out in hives. It's totally irrational and, I'd guess, personal to me.
But on the whole Villa aren't such a bad lot. They have that kind of affable and accepting gloominess that most Midlanders have. They're only truly happy when they're miserable. It's charming.
How to get there?
London Midland supersaver return will get you there for £21 (obviously at that price, the train stops a lot and the journey time is a couple of minutes north of two hours). If you're a flash git with plenty of disposable income, a virgin train will have you at Birmingham New Street from Euston in about 80 minutes. Once at Birmingham New Street, change for a local train to either Witton- which is closer to the away end- or to Aston.
If you're driving, good luck. I hope you like traffic.
Any historical landmarks?
There is a statue of Sir William McGregor outside the Trinity Road End. McGregor was a President at Aston Villa until his death in 1911, but most crucially, he was the founder of the Football League.
Where to drink?
As an away fan, you'll get shovelled into the Witton Arms. This is a pub that's half given over to away supporters and even has a separate entrance. They have the cheek to charge you for entry. The beer isn't up to much, but it's pretty sizeable. If you're going for a sing song with some Gooners and aren't that fussed about the beer or the £2 entry fee, this is your place.
However, if you fancy getting into Witton a bit earlier and are a persuer of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide, about a 10 minute walk away on Aston High Street is the Barton Arms. It's a Grade II listed building, serves cracking beer, plenty of seats and does Thai food too. Best not to wear colours, but I have family in the area and this has been a regular haunt for me whenever I'm visiting that part of the world. LD.